Oregon rejected a request for funding to create affordable housing in the former Waldorf Hotel, in part because the state found there was “not a need” for such housing in Astoria.
Innovative Housing Inc., a Portland-based nonprofit, plans to resubmit the application, but the rejection will delay plans to turn the dilapidated hotel next door to City Hall into a 40-unit apartment building. The project was expected to cost up to $6 million, with much of the money coming from grants and tax credits.
City Manager Brett Estes’ announcement of the state’s rejection elicited gasps from the audience at a City Council meeting Tuesday. The lack of affordable housing in the city and across Clatsop County has been the most dominant public-policy issue for the past few years.
“Yes we were surprised and disappointed that we did not get awarded funding for our state application the first time around,” Julie Garver, the housing development director for Innovative Housing, said in an email. “However, the funding is extremely competitive, and it often takes a couple of tries to get funded through this source.”
The state uses a variety of criteria to evaluate competing applications, including census data that compares a community’s ratio of affordable housing supply and the number of people below a certain income level with other rural communities, she said.
“It is difficult to get a good snapshot of what a community is really struggling with by using this calculation,” Garver said. “What if people working in an area can’t live there due to lack of housing? Census data won’t show them ‘living’ in that community, and as a result people do not get figured into the calculation.”
While Innovative Housing is disappointed by the delay, they are used to being “extremely persistent” to get projects funded given limited resources available for affordable housing, Garver said. The organization develops multifamily and low-income apartment buildings in Oregon and Washington state.
“The good news is that we always prevail,” Garver added, “even if it takes a little longer.”
For now, Estes and city staff will work to get a better understanding of how the state measures housing needs. Estes and city councilors hope a housing study organized by the county could provide more evidence to convince the state to change its mind about the Waldorf project. The housing study, intended to provide cities with a better understanding of housing needs, is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.
Garver told the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission last May that it could take some time for the Waldorf project to get off the ground. The sale of the Waldorf to Innovative Housing didn’t close until late last year.
The Waldorf, also known as the Merwyn Hotel, had been targeted for demolition when the city considered expanding the Astoria Library. Preservationists argued against the decision and the City Council has since voted to renovate the library within its existing footprint. City Hall still faces issues related to its proximity to the aging Waldorf building, but Estes said Innovative Housing has been responsive to concerns, dealing with problems as they arise.